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Murder On The Eightfold Path

Voices. Arguing.

A.J. opened her eyes. Moonlight illuminated her bedroom. Monster, on the foot of the bed, raised his head, listening. A.J. listened, too. The voices were not raised-in fact they were muffled-but all the same it triggered unpleasant memories of her adolescence. Her parents had enjoyed one of those cant-live-with-and-cant-live-without relationships. Although enjoyed was perhaps not the right word. They had certainly loved each other, though, despite everything.

She turned her head on the pillow. The clock on the bedside table read twenty past eleven. A.J. swore under her breath. It took great effort, but she managed to crawl-nearly literally-out of the bed. Hobbling across to the door-it felt like she was about to crack in half-she inched it open.

Light from the front room fanned the hallway. Jakes voice was quiet but carried. Listen, lady, the only reason youre not in jail right now is that youre A.J.s mom.

I certainly wouldnt want mere innocence to sway you!

A.J. huffed an exasperated sigh and, hanging on to the doorframe, pushed the door wider. Whats going on out there?

I am trying to throw this brute out, Elysia moved into view. What are you doing up at this hour?

Im not six years old, Mother. Im allowed up past ten oclock-even on school nights. She stared past Elysia to Jake who stood by the front door as though uncertain of his reception. I didnt think you were coming over this evening.

Yeah. Well.

I can see why you cant resist this silver-tongued devil.

Mother. Jakes gaze held her own. A.J. said to her mother, You dont need to stay. Ill be okay now.

Elysia did not exactly roll her eyes, but the effect was similar. Far be it from me to play the third wheel, but are you expecting Herr Himmler to help you bathe in the morning, fix your breakfast, and the rest of it?

A.J. blinked as the reality of her situation sunk in.

Her point made, Elysia said dryly, Ill be down the hall if you need me. She and Jake passed each other in the hallway like a cat and dog pledged to an uneasy truce.

Jake reached A.J., who backed carefully into her bedroom. He heeled the door shut and took her-carefully-in his arms and kissed her.

Are you okay?

Better now. She kissed him back. She was very glad he was there, glad she was in his arms again, despite the strain of knowing that he suspected Elysia.

As though reading her mind, Jake said, I didnt expect her here. I guess I should have. What did the doctor say?

A.J. freed herself gently, making her way to the bed and lowering herself slowly and painfully to the mattress. No twisting, no turning, no lifting. What youre seeing is basically my full repertoire.

How long are you on bed rest?

For as long as it takes. Im supposed to get a steroid shot on Tuesday if the inflammation is reduced enough.

Jake hovered over her. It was not in his nature to stand by helplessly, that was obvious.

A.J. bit her lip against a yelp. This was so unbelievably frustrating! When she was lying flat again on her heating pad she said, Its not as drastic as it sounds. I used to have a lot of back trouble. The yoga has really helped. Until this morning. She added, Youre an awfully long way away over there.

He sat down gingerly on the side of the bed. I dont want to hurt you.

You wont. She held out an arm and he came to her, kissing her mouth lightly.

Poor baby.

It should have been patronizing, but oddly it wasnt.

She nuzzled him back. How is the investigation going?

Not good. And before you say anything else, remember that I cannot discuss this case with you. Not at all.

Shes my mother, Jake.

You think that escaped my notice? Thats my point.

You cannot honestly believe she did this thing.

Just cool down for a minute and look at this objectively.

I dont want to look at it objectively!

He drew back. And I dont want to discuss the case with you. So lets drop it. He added quietly, Or I can leave if thats what youd prefer.

Would she prefer that? As angry and worried as A.J. was she cared for Jake. A lot. Having to choose between her boyfriend and her mother was a dilemma shed prefer not to face.

Dont go, she said.

Not that they were going to be able to get up to much mischief what with her mother, The Accused, down the hall and A.J. unable to move a muscle without wincing. It took a fair bit of mindful shifting and rearranging before they managed to arrange themselves comfortably.

A few minutes were spent tenderly kissing before Monster insinuated himself on the foot of the bed, circled twice, and folded up with a doggy grumble as he encountered Jakes feet. Jake groaned. A.J. started laughing.

When they had quieted, again finding easy-well, relatively easy positions-A.J. sighed. This morning seems like such a long time ago.

Jake grunted.

Everything was so simple. Happy. That morning had been lovely. Jake had spent the night and theyd risen together, breakfasting on warm, buttery croissants, bagels slathered with cream cheese, and Irish coffee. Hed given her a Mr. Goodtime Easter Bunny-sixteen and a half inches of hand decorated white and milk chocolate. Something about the self-conscious way her laconic tough guy had handed over the cellophane wrapped rabbit had touched A.J. in a way that her ex-husband Andys charming tokens of affection never had. Maybe because she sensed these kinds of gestures were not typical for Jake.

Jake kissed her temple and said nothing. A.J. knew that he believed it was going to be a long time before her life was that simple and happy again.

Either because of the drugs or emotional exhaustion, A.J. slept deeply-and late-the next morning. When she finally woke, Jake was already gone. She didnt remember telling him good-bye.

She didnt feel too bad after a decent nights sleep, but a few agonizing minutes later it was clear she was not going into the studio that morning. And all the will power and positive thinking in the world wasnt going to change that.

Before she had much time to fret, Elysia poked her head surreptitiously around the door. Morning, sunshine!

Thats just cruel, A.J. informed her.

Elysia raised her brows. Now, now. A positive attitude is everything, as the Bard says.

Mother, you know perfectly well the Bard never said such a thing.

I suppose its more of an underlying thematic statement in his work. Elysia moved the phone from the bedside table to the bed, and A.J. grimaced, sitting up with difficulty.

She phoned the studio and spoke to Emma Rice, the geriatric Wonder Woman who doubled as one of the Sacred Balance Studio receptionists. A.J. answered the inevitable questions and offered reassurance. Emma put her through to Suze MacDougal, a junior instructor.

I knew it, Suze exclaimed. Youre never late. The shooting is all over the news. Hows your mom holding up?

Now there was a question for the ages. A.J. studied her mother as Elysia bustled from bedroom to bathroom running a bath. For a woman suspected of murder, she seemed pretty cool. But then no doubt she remembered a similar episode on 221B Baker Street, the legendary British television detective show she had graced for years, and was acting out her role.

Better than me, probably, A.J. admitted. She went on to explain that shed fallen and wouldnt be making it into the studio. Suze commiserated with comforting energy.

When A.J. felt shed stalled long enough, she asked to be put through to Lily. Lily Martin was A.J.s co-manager at the studio; it was not a partnership either of them would have chosen.

Yes, A.J.? Lily came on the line, brusque as always, and A.J. had to wonder again at Aunt Dis purpose in pairing them together. Yoga seemed like such an odd field of endeavor for Lily. A.J. could more easily picture her achieving her full potential intimidating marines in a boot camp somewhere or training gladiators for the Colosseum.

Although Lily had to be aware of the situation with Elysia, she said nothing after that curt greeting, waiting in silence for A.J. to come to the point.

I fell yesterday and injured my back, A.J. told her. I wont be in the studio today. Realistically, I probably wont be in this week. Even that might be optimistic, but A.J. had faced all the reality she could deal with for one day-and she hadnt even had breakfast yet.

Oh dear! Lily said, and A.J. couldnt help but think there was as much excitement as surprise in that single exclamation.

Lily asked the appropriate and intelligent questions, and A.J. answered politely-it was probably the most cordial conversation theyd ever had. Lily, sounding eerily sympathetic, instructed A.J. not to worry about anything, and finished off the call urging A.J. to take care of herself.

A.J. pictured the other woman doing handsprings when she hung up the phone. Lilys delight was only too obvious.

All taken care of? Elysia returned to the bedroom.

It wont be easy, but shes going to soldier on somehow. A.J. gingerly pulled herself into an upright position. She caught her breath as the pain seemed to radiate from her lower back all the way around to her abdomen and down to her buttocks.

Well, who can say? Perhaps Lily will appreciate you after having to manage things on her own for a few days.

A.J. snorted.

Now, now. Is this the spirit that won the war? Still exuding unnerving cheer and optimism, Elysia helped A.J. into the bath, and A.J. thought how strange it was to rely on your mother for such things once you were an adult.

Thanks, she said when she was finally lying back in her freshly changed sheets. I appreciate it. She patted Monster who stood on the mattress gazing down at her, wagging his tail.

Elysia looked a little uncertain. But of course. You know theres nothing I wouldnt do for you, Anna.

A.J. flicked her mother a shy look. I know. It had taken her most of her adult life to realize it, but she did know. She quickly changed the subject, demanding rhetorically, What the heck am I going to do for a week?

Why, any number of things. Catch up on your reading, watch a little telly, eat. Itll be like a holiday.

Sure, except for the excruciating pain part.

Elysia, bundling the used sheets from A.J.s bed, frowned. Are you in excruciating pain?

It hurts a lot, A.J. admitted although she hated to sound like a wimp.

She stared at the ceiling as her mother took the laundry out. Monster jumped stiffly off the bed and followed her down the hall.

When Elysia returned with A.J.s breakfast, A.J. said, I guess I could take a look at the book Aunt Di was working on when she-before she-

A.J. had discovered the completed manuscript when she had first gone through her aunts study. Every so often it occurred to her that she should do something with it, but she had been uncertain how to proceed.

What a good idea! Elysia said. She helped A.J. sit up, settled the tray over A.J.s knees, and stepped back as though to study her handiwork.

What was the book about? she asked, watching A.J. sample scrambled eggs.

It was a memoir. It seemed to be mostly finished. It might just be a matter of finding a publisher.

Perfect. Where is this tome?

A.J. told Elysia where to find the manuscript and Elysia brought the box with loose-leaf papers and notes and Aunt Dianthas rough draft. Studying her daughters supine position, she said, Perhaps I could pick up one of those laptop writing desks

I already have a couple of trays, its the having to lie flat part, A.J. said. She added thoughtfully, You seem awfully interested in keeping me occupied.

Idle hands are the devils playpen, pumpkin.

My idle hands are not the problem here.

Elysias expression was wide-eyed and innocent.

I know that look, A.J. said. I dont trust it. Or you. Tell me about Dicky. How did you meet him? He was on the cruise that you took last year?

Oh, you dont want to hear about all that.

Youre right. But I think Id better.

Elysia leaned against the footboard of the bed. Its not particularly fascinating, you know. We met on the cruise, yes. He was doing a series of lectures on ancient Egypt. Nothing too heavy, of course. Mostly slide shows and chatting.

He was employed by the cruise line?

Elysia looked thoughtful. Im not absolutely certain. I believe technically he was employed by the Supreme Council of Antiquities, but had been seconded to the cruise line. They tried to break up the shuffleboard and miniature golf with a few cultural activities.

How did you get involved?

Elysia shrugged elaborately.

A.J. asked curiously, Did you pursue him?

Not really. I wasnt looking for anything like that.

A.J. decided shed be happier not knowing what that was. So what happened? Just your ordinary average shipboard romance ending in blackmail and murder?

I believe so, yes.

Youre not being very helpful, Mother.

Elysia looked mildly pained. Its not as though I anticipated this, pumpkin. I was on holiday and I was enjoying myself. Dicky was charming. We had great fun together and then we didnt.

Casting her mind back, A.J. recalled that Elysia had ended the cruise early, leaving the ship in Edfu, so perhaps the seeds of the affairs violent ending had been sown even then? Except that her mother could not possibly have had anything to do with Mr. Massris demise, of that A.J. was certain.

When did he start blackmailing you?

Weellllll, Elysia sounded vague. Perhaps blackmail was putting it rather harshly. He began to hint that he had certain expenses.

What kind of expenses?

The usual sort of thing. His tailor, his mechanic, his bookie. I didnt think much of it.

His bookie?

Not back in Egypt, of course. But after he moved here, well, Dicky liked to play the ponies.

And you paid him ten thousand dollars when he hinted he had these expenses?

Elysia raised an elegant bony shoulder. Not in one go. Im liberated enough to pick up the chit a few times.

Then what happened?

You know this part of the story, pumpkin. I learned that Nicole Manning had been murdered, and I left the ship in Edfu, hired a car for the return trip to Luxor, and flew back home.

Nicole Manning had been a local television celebrity. Her violent death had resulted in A.J. being unwillingly dragged into another homicide investigation by Elysia, who had developed an alarming taste for amateur sleuthing.

Thats the only reason you left the ship?

Elysia nodded, but it struck A.J. as unconvincing. Perhaps Elysia had not found extortion all that amusing to begin with. Her mother had an ego like anyone else.

But Dicky contacted you?

He turned up one afternoon at the house and said hed moved to the States to further his career.

Which career? Blackmailing?

Elysia tittered-inappropriately, in A.J.s opinion.

Did he try to blackmail you then?

He didnt phrase it quite so crudely. Elysia smiled reminiscently. We began seeing each other again.

But you never said a word about him!

He wasnt the sort of person you bring home to meet your children.

Do you have other children Im not aware of?

Elysia seemed amused, which did not do much for A.J.s mounting exasperation.

So how long did that go on for?

Oh, it was still going on. Elysia seemed mildly surprised at A.J.s assumption. Wed been seeing each other for about seven months. I knew Id have to break it off soon, though, as he kept pushing for me to marry him.

A.J. shuddered. I cant believe you were living this double life.

It sounds much more interesting than it was.

Is it possible he could have been killed by his bookie? Maybe he what do you call it? Welshed on his debt?

Elysia looked thoughtful. He took his gambling debts very seriously, true enough. I wonder

Or maybe his death had something to do with his job? His other job. Perhaps he was involved in faking or smuggling antiquities? Its big business, I know.

Elysia looked thoughtful. Its interesting you should mention that. Dear Dicky did hint once or twice that he knew something, shall we say unsavory? And wanted to clear the slate. Prove himself worthy before our marriage.

Mother, did you tell him you were going to marry him?

Elysia said evasively, I didnt say I wouldnt.

A.J. put her hand over her eyes.

I was working up to it, Elysia said defensively. But he was pinning so much on it, poor ducks. I hated to dash his hopes when he was just getting his life on track again.

When she could speak calmly, A.J. said, Did he give you any hint as to what this unsavory thing was that he wanted to clear off his slate? Are you sure it had to do with antiquities?

Elysia said apologetically, You know, I didnt always listen as carefully to the dear boy as I suppose I should have.

You dont say!

Elysia rose and went to the window. She stared out for a few moments and then stiffened. She bit her lip, her attention still glued to whatever she was looking at.

What is it? A.J. asked uneasily.

You wont like it.

Im getting used to that.

I know youre in pain, Anna, but please dont take that tone with me.

A.J. gritted her teeth. Who is out there, Mother?

Now dont overreact, pumpkin. The police have arrived.

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